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Get Rid of the Microbeads! They’re Bad for You and the Environment

Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on February 11, 2019 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Posted in Healthy Living

If you’ve ever searched the shelves of your local supermarket’s beauty aisle, you’ve probably come across a few different products containing microbeads. These tiny additions to soaps and skincare products were designed to provide benefits for your skin but have actually had the opposite effect for many people and the environment.

Today, many major markets around the globe have banned the production and sale of products containing plastic microbeads. If you have microbead products at home or come across microbead products in stores, here’s why you should choose an alternative, instead.

What are microbeads?

Microbeads are tiny plastic balls or beads added to a variety of beauty products including skin care, shower gels, soaps, toothpaste, hair products and more. They are also commonly added to household cleaning products for extra scrubbing effects.

Microbeads are made of manufactured plastic called polyethylene, polypropylene or polystyrene. They are extremely small—typically about the size of a grain of sand.

When they are added to cosmetic products, microbeads are intended to exfoliate the skin, or rub dead skin cells loose to prevent flakiness and remove buildup. In shampoos and other hair products, microbeads are generally intended to massage and exfoliate the scalp.

The harm in using microbeads

Because most microbead products are washed away with water, thousands of microbeads are swept down the drain every time they are used. However, microbeads do not dissolve in water. They retain their hard, plastic form.

Because these beads are so small, they aren’t easily filtered out in municipal wastewater treatment facilities. It’s nearly impossible to remove microbeads from water at this point in time due to the need for new equipment and significantly more time in treating water. This means they end up in our public waterways like oceans, lakes and streams.

Once in the water, microbeads can look like food to sea creatures, finding their way into the very fish we eat. Over time, these tiny, plastic particles can accumulate in fish and inside us. Microbeads can lead to digestive problems and death in marine animals because they feel full and don’t get enough nutrients.

Unfortunately, experts aren’t sure of microbeads’ potential effects on our health because they haven’t been studied extensively. Some experts believe that the plastic beads can bond with toxic particles that are released inside animals’ or our bodies, potentially causing health problems like cancer, hormone disruption and birth defects.

At this point in time, all we can really do about the microbeads currently in our ecosystem is wait and see what effects transpire. However, many countries are working to eliminate the problem for the future by banning the sale of products containing microbeads and encouraging consumers to avoid using products they’ve already purchased. By discontinuing their use, we can hope to minimize the effects microbeads have on our planet.

Natural ways to exfoliate your scalp

The benefits of microbeads do not outweigh the risks of using them and putting more potentially harmful plastics out in the environment. If you’re looking for a great way to exfoliate your scalp, but you just got done throwing your microbead products in the trash, try some of these natural alternatives.

  • Oatmeal mask: Oatmeal makes a great natural exfoliator when it’s ground into tiny chunks, and it won’t harm the environment or your health. Combine a few tablespoons of finely ground oatmeal with a shampoo or conditioner of your choice. You can also add other ingredients like yogurt, honey or sugar to enhance the effects. Massage the mixture into your scalp, then thoroughly rinse.
  • Baking soda or sugar: Sugar and baking soda also make great exfoliators, which is why they are staple ingredients in many organic exfoliating products. Combine these abrasive materials with yogurt, shampoo or conditioner, then massage onto your scalp while in the shower.
  • Products using ground organic ingredients: You don’t have to make your own exfoliating hair products—many cosmetic brands sell products made with organic materials that work just as well as microbeads do! Look for products that contain ground seeds, nuts or fruit, as well as sea salt, sugar and more.

One more potential harm in using microbeads is that they can be too abrasive on the skin if they are used too often. Overuse of these products can potentially lead to skin or scalp damage, as well as infections or even scarring.

The same may be true of using natural exfoliating products. Make sure you’re only using exfoliating products around once a week to give your skin time to heal.

With just a little attention to what is inside your hair care and other cosmetic products, you can ensure you have silky-smooth skin and protect our environment!

Read also: Expert Insights into Picking the Right Products for Your Hair

Our Expert

Paulina Nelega, RH
Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan

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